This section is an ongoing project dedicated to the words of the Colonial Era. Granted, many of these words would not be used at the local tavern, but may well have been employed in more learned circles. In addition to words used then that are not used now, we also include words that may still be around whose meanings have changed since early America.
Whenever possible, we try to provide a full etymological background of each entry, as well as examples of usage from then-current literature.
Though we use a wide variety of resources for this project, we'd be remiss not to mention Dictionary of Early English by Joseph T. Shipley (Introduction by Mark Van Doren), which you can find in its entirety HERE, readable online, or as a downloadable .pdf file...
Please Contact Us if you have any additions (that we haven't added yet -- this is a work-in-progress) or corrections to these entries...we hope you find this Colonial Dictionary interesting and useful.
The sharing, or state of sharing, another's happiness; taking pleasure in others' joy; (in religious reference) beatitude. Greek markarismos; makar, happy. Hence also macarize, to deem happy or blessed. Whately makes it clear in his COMMONPLACE BOOK (1864) : A man is admired for what he is, macarized for what he has, praised for what he does . . . The words 'felicitate' and 'congratulate' are used only in application to events, which are one branch only of 'macarism' ... To admiration, contempt seems to be the direct contrary; censure, to commendation; pity, to macarism.
A dandy, an exquisite of the late 18th century, who affected the fashions and tastes of continental society. The word grew fashionable from the Macaroni Club (1760), which took its name from the Italian food, then little eaten in England, hence highly esteemed by these young blades. For a somewhat different use, see circum- (circumforaneous). Horace Walpole in a letter to the Earl of Hertford (1764) spoke of: The Maccaroni Club (which is composed of all the travelled young men who wear long curls and spying glasses). The OXFORD MAGAZINE of June 1770 elaborated: There is indeed a kind of animal, neither male nor female, a thing of the neuter gender, lately started up amongst us. It is called a macaroni. It talks without meaning, it smiles without pleasantry, it eats without appetite, it rides without exercise, it wenches without passion. Hence also, macaronism, macaronyish. See Macaronic.
Verse, usually burlesque, in which are mingled words of various languages; originally, Latin and the native tongue. Bailey (1751) defines macaronics as verses in which the native words of a language are made to end in a Latin termination. The word was first used in this sense by Teofilo Folengo ("Merlinus Cocaius") for his BOOK OF MACARONICS, published in 1517. In the second edition, Folengo says he took the name from macaroni, "a sort of powdered wheaten paste with cheese, coarse, rude, and rustic." Hence also, as an adjective, macaronic, jumbled, mixed as in a medley. From the desire of the dandy, the exquisite, the fashionable young gentleman of the 1750's and I760's to enjoy what he considered the superior tastes of Europe, came the macaroni (q.v.) . Those that remember the zoot-suit watch chains of the 1940's will smile at the follies of 1780; It is the custom, you know, among the macaronies, said Madame D'Arbley in her DIARY for 9 December, 1783, to wear two watches. As late as 1825, at the horse races, macaroni stakes were those ridden by gentlemen, not professional jockeys. Even earlier, however, the term had come to be used in mockery; THE MONTHLY MAGAZINE (III, 1797) spoke of this fanciful aera, when macaroni philosophers hold flirtation with science; and most dwellers to the west of the North Atlantic recall (though they may have forgotten the meaning of the word) the Revolutionary song Yankee Doodle came to town, Riding on a pony; Stuck a feather in Ms hat and called it macaroni . . . Yankee Doodle dandy.
Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --using the largest thing nearby.
The action of killing; especially, of ritual sacrifice. Latin mactare, mactatum, to slay; hence also to mactate; a mactator, a killer; one that officiates at a ritual killing. In the HISTORY OF EGYPT (1838) M. Russell referred to the deity before whom the mactation is about to be performed.
Spotted, stained; polluted. Often used in opposition to immaculate, as in Shakespeare's LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST (1594), where Armado protests: My love is most immaculate white and red, and his page, Moth, retorts: Most maculate thoughts, master, are masked under such colors. Latin macula, spot, is used as a scientific term in English; also macule. macular, relating to maculae, spots. From the 15th century there were verb forms, macule, maculate, to spot, to pollute. Bradshaw in THE LIFE OF SAINT WERBURGE OF CHESTER (15 IS) wrote that a sensuall prynce . . . purposed to maculate this vyrgyn gloryous. In the 17th and 18th centuries, maculature was in the dictionaries, as blotting paper, or a waste sheet of printed paper. T. Adams wrote, in THE DEVIL'S BANQUET (1614) , of the lutulent, spumy, maculatorie waters of sinne: maculatory, apt to defile; lutulent (Latin lutum, mud), muddy; see luteous. Thus maculation, defilement; Shakespeare in TROILUS AND CRESSIDA (1606): I will throw my glove to death himselfe, That there's no maculation in thy heart.
Divination -- foretelling events, predicting the future --using spots.
Relating to cooking. (Soft g followed by long i; jy.) Also magirological. Greek mageiros, cook. Hence also magirist, magirologist, expert at cooking; magirology, the art of cookery. PUNCH (21 May, 1892) spoke of immortal contributions to mageiristic lore. Since Greek mageia is magic, we may admit the relationship; as THE SCHOOL OF GOOD LIVING (1814) observed, from the very first appearance of magirology in Greece, it produced effects absolutely magical. For current evidence, consult LES AMIS D'ESCOFFIER.
Eminent; glorious; munificent Imposing, exalted; highly eulogistic. In later use, occasionally suggesting the pompous, grandiloquent. Latin magnus, great + fic; facere, to make. Also magnifical. Milton in PARADISE LOST (1667) speaks of Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Vertues, Powers, If these magnific titles yet remain Not meerly titular. Gaxton (ENEYDOS; 1490) : This gentylman ... of name magnyfyque.
As a noun. Physical strength; force, power. Shakespeare in TROILUS AND CRESSIDA (1606) : with all our main of power; frequent in the phrase used in the nursery rhyme of the man who had "scratched out both his eyes": "With all his might and main, he jumped into another bush And scratched them in again." Also, the chief part, main body (MERCHANT OF VENICE V. i. 97; HAMLET: against the main of Poland) . The main point, chief concern (HAMLET II. ii. 56) . The main-land (KING LEAR III. i. 6) . The ocean (KING JOHN II. i. 26; RICHARD III. iv. 20; OTHELLO II. i. 3, 39) . A broad expanse (SONNET 60: Nativity once in the maine of light Crawles to maturity) . The object aimed at, goal; Webster in THE DUCHESS OF MALFI (1623) : Bosola: You say you would fain be taken for an eminent courtier? Castruccio: "Tis the very main of my ambition. In the 19th century, to turn on the main, to begin to weep copiously; from the main, the chief pipe, drain, or other duct for water. Thus Dickens in THE PICKWICK PAPERS (1837) : Blessed if I don't think he's got a main in his head as is always turned on. Also main, short form of domain; mains (from the 16th century), a farm attached to a mansion house. In dice (the game of hazard) , main, maine, mayne: a number (from 5 to 9) called by the caster before he throws; if he 'throws in' or 'nicks' that number, he wins; if he 'throws out' aces, or deuce and ace ('crabs') he loses. If any other number, he keeps throwing until that number (his 'chance') comes again, when he wins, or his main comes, when he loses. This was a very common use of main, 15th to 19th century; it was extended to apply to a match at bowling, boxing, shooting, and to a main at cocks, cock-fight. A Welsh main (1770) starts with say, 16 pair of cocks; the 16 winners are matched, then the 8 winners, and so till one triumphs as in a tournament at tennis. Shakespeare uses main in the gaming sense, in HENRY VI, PART TWO and in HENRY IV, PART ONE: Were it good To set the exact wealth of all our states All at one castf To set so rich a main On the nice hazard of one doubtful hour?
(1) Without a husband. Shakespeare in SONNET 9 (1598) says The world will waile thee, like a makelesse wife. From the year 1000, make as a noun meant match, mate, equal; the make, the like. Chaucer in THE COMPLAYNT OF MARS (1374) says: God gif every wyghte joy of his make! Hence (2) makeless, matchless, without equal. So used from the 13th into the 1 7th century, later in dialects. THE MIRROR FOR MAGISTRATES (Buckingham; 1563) wrote of a makeles prynce in ryches and in myght.
A small quantity added to make up a certain weight; especially, in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, a small candle added to whatever is being sold, to make a pound. Hence, an insignificant person or thing, used to fill a gap or the like. Thus Paine in his COMMON SENSE (1776) said of America: By her dependence on Britain she is the make-weight in the scale of British politics. Anna Seward in a letter of 1793 said: It is no custom of Shakespeare's to give us merely makeweight epithets. Hallam in his INTRODUCTION TO THE LITERATURE OF EUROPE (1839) derided an incestuous passion brought forward as the makeweight of a plot, to eke out a fifth act. In the 19th century, an extra slice of bread sometimes used to make up the legal weight of a loaf. It was a moment of deep pathos in LITTLE GERTY, THE LAMPLIGHTER'S DAUGHTER (1876) , when the hungry child confesses she has eaten the makeweight.
Saucy, impudent; a presumptuous person. Bailey (1751) suggests that the word is from Latin male, ill + partus gotten, bred; or else from male + apert, ready. Cp. apart. The O.E.D. says its meaning shows that it was understood as though from mal + apert, bold, hence improperly bold -- but that it is from Old French malapert, used by Eustache Deschtamps as the opposite of appert, espert (English expert), clever; hence it should have been used to mean clumsy. However, Shakespeare in TWELFTH NIGHT (1601) says I must have an ounce or two of this malapert blood from you, and Scott in THE BETROTHED (1825) continues this meaning: you are too malapert for a young maiden.
Evil machination; fraud; guile. Old French mal, evil + engin, device. Spenser in THE FAERIE QUEENE (1590) speaks of such malengin and fine forgery. Milton (1641) said that the Protector Cromwell's brother through private malice and malengin was to lose his life.
Misfortune. Direct from French malheur, earlier maleur; mal, evil + eur, fortune; eur is shortened from Latin augurium, fortune, augury. Also maleheure, malure, mallure, etc. Used from the 15th into the 18th century, as in CHAUCER'S DREAM (1500) : I wofull wight full of malure, Am worse than dead.
Used figuratively, from the 18th century, to mean one engaged in or fond of trivial occupations or adornments. Hence, man-millinery, apparel (or activity) on which attention is lavished trivially or beyond its desert. Hazlitt in POLITICAL ESSAYS (1814) said: The 'Morning Herald' sheds tears of joy over the fashionable virtues of the rising generation., and finds that we shall make better man-milliners, better lacqueys, better courtiers than ever. Scott in a letter of 22 August, 1819, remarked that there goes as much to the manmillinery of a young officer of hussars as to that of an heiress on her bridal day.
An officer in charge of purchasing provisions, as at a monastery or college. Latin mancipium meant a bondslave, which sense also came to English manciple; Latin manus, hand + capere (cipi, cepi), captum, to take; whence a host of words: concept, inception, captor, captive, emancipation,, etc Chaucer, in the Prologue to THE CANTERBURY TALES (1386) praises his man: A gentil maunciple was ther of a temple Of which achatours myghte take example For to be wise in byynge of vitaille.
To dress up (inferior wares) for sale; also, to deal in slaves. Latin mango, mangonem, a furbisher; a monger, a siavedealer; from the root mac-, mag-, big; to magnify. The English monger and its compounds stem from mango. Hence mangony, mangonism, the art, craft, or practice of furbishing things for sale; also (17th and 18th centuries), the treatment of plants so as to produce changes and new varieties, A mangonist, one that dresses up wares for sale. Used by the 17th century dramatists (Marston; Jonson).